Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

‘If any want to become my followers, 
let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 

Jesus has asked the disciples who they say that he is.
Peter answers that He is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
He is rewarded for the answer, and is told that he is the rock on which the church will be built.

Everything is going well.

From that time on,
Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem
and undergo great suffering at the hands of
the elders and chief priests and scribes,
and be killed,
and on the third day be raised. 

Imagine what is going through the disciple’s heads at this point.

He teaches us the way of God’s kingdom, he heals the sick, he feeds the hungry out of nothing. He walks on water. He can do anything. He isn’t just some guy, he is the Son of God.
Now he thinks he has to be killed by the religious leaders.
We warned him that he was causing trouble with them.
Surely he doesn’t have to be killed by them?
There must be something he can do.
There must be something we can do.

Peter, who has just been praised so highly, and given the most significant role of the disciples, thinks he must do something. He speaks for the group.
He pulls Jesus aside.
‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 
No Jesus, you’ve got it wrong. You are catastrophizing things. This isn’t what the father expects of you. You have misheard or something.

Peter thinks he is doing the right thing,
but he is in fact actually going along with the very powers that Jesus is challenging.

He is entering in on the issue on a human level not a divine level.

But Jesus turned and said to Peter,
‘Get behind me, Satan!
You are a stumbling-block to me; 

Peter is the rock on which the church will be built, but now he has become a stumbling block.
He is called Satan because what he has said is like what Satan said to Jesus in the desert.
He is pushing a human agenda, not divine one.

for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

Then Jesus told his disciples,
‘If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 
Now we get to the real tough stuff.
It was fine and well Jesus saying he was going to suffer,
but now he is saying that any who want to follow him must be prepared to do so too.

Deny themselves.

Deny themselves what exactly?
To deny oneself of oneself.
To give up your own idea of who you are and find instead who you are in Christ.

The idea of giving up an aspect of ourselves doesn’t come easy.
Jesus is calling us to give up the things that we think are important,
 and replace them with things God thinks are important.
Jesus is calling us to give up the things of the world and replace them with the things of God.
We are called to live differently than the world,
and that means not following the way of the world, but the way of Jesus.

And that is the way of the cross.
Take up your cross and follow me.
What is the cross that Jesus talks of?

Jesus he will take up his cross and he will be killed,
Revealing to everyone how the world acts in the face of love,
How power responds when it is challenged by peace.
He also reveals the futility and impotence of such powers by raising from the death they inflicted upon him.
The way of the world is no match for the power of God.

The cross we must take up is similar.
We will all have our own personal crosses,
some known to all, others between yourselves and God.

But as Christians, and as a church we have a cross to bear,
and it is borne by following in the footsteps of Christ.

When we act out of a position that seeks power and control,
we are working with the same powers that sentenced Jesus to death.

To carry the cross means to resist the allure of power and control.
It means to surrender our own desires for power,
and to not fall into the way of the world.

The world tried to kill the way of God by putting his son on a cross.
When we act to gain power, collude with power over those who are weak,
when we seek to dominate,
we are not carrying our cross,
but are carrying the nails to crucify others.

To surrender to the allure of power and control is the opposite of denying ourselves,
it is the opposite of carrying our cross,
it is the opposite of following Jesus.

We are to deny our desire for power.
When we do, we are following the way of the cross, we are following Jesus.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Who do you say that I am?

This is such a simple question, yet the answer is not quite that simple.

Where and when Jesus asks this question are important in the whole narrative:

Think about what has happened:
He has healed many people.
He feed over 5000 with just 5 fish and two loaves.
He has walked on water.
He has challenged the religious leaders.
He has been challenged by a foreign woman, an outsider.

Up until that moment, his mission was for the ‘lost sheep of Israel.’
The healings, the feedings were for them.
After the Canaanite woman’s challenge, he begins to heal Gentiles.
There is another miraculous feeding, this time for all people, not just ‘the lost sheep of Israel.’

Jesus mission has become bigger than he initially thought.
It is time to reassess. It is time to take stock of the situation.

He takes his group of followers with him to Ceasarea Phillipi.
This was the regional headquarters of the Roman Empire.
If Canberra is Rome, this is like going to outside the local MP’s office.
He does this for a reason. He is asking them about who is the most important.
Is it the religious leaders?
He has challenged them, and the disciples, while a bit scared, have continued to follow him.
Is it then the civic leaders?
Who is then?

So, things are changing.

Jesus wants to know:
‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 
He is asking the disciples: what are you hearing about me?
What is being said about me when I am not around?
What is being asked about me?
With all that I am doing and saying, what is the impression I am making on all the people.
Now that it is not just the lost sheep of Israel, but all people, who do they say that I am?

And they said,
‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah,
and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 

None of these are right. They all fall short of the mark.
They all recognise something of who Jesus is, but not the whole picture.

Who do people say Jesus is today?
He is a baby that is talked about along with Santa in December.
He is a guy who lived a long time ago who said a lot of stuff that sounds good, but doesn’t really work in everyday life.
He is man who millions of people carry on about, but don’t really follow.

I am not sure whether most people get who Jesus is.
I am not sure whether we do a very good job of letting them know.

Those who don’t know Jesus will get to know who he is by how they see him portrayed by those who claim to follow him.

When the church sits by and does nothing to help those in trouble,
what impression of Jesus are the public going to get?
When the church abuses its own people and abuses it’s power,
what will people think Jesus is like?

So, Jesus has heard from the disciples who everyone else thinks he is.
But who do you say that I am?’
You who have been with me, who have witnessed all that has happened, who have talked with me, who have shared in my life, who do you think I am ?

You can feel the tension.
Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 
Peter gets it right.
Jesus is the Son of God.
He isn’t just some prophet or man who does good, he is the Messiah, the anointed one.
He is fully human and fully divine.

Who do you say Jesus is?

We say a whole bunch of stuff about him today, especially after the sermon when we affirm our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed.

What Peter confessed, we will confess.

Who do you say Jesus is?

Who is he?
Who has he been in your life?

Is he the one who saved you?
Is he the one who stayed with you when everyone else left?
Is he the one who was with you when it seemed that there was nothing worth living for?
Is the one who healed you of your pain?
Is he the one who feeds you spiritually so you can carry on?

Who you say Jesus is will largely depend on your own life and experience.

Ultimately, the answer will be our lives.

The way we live, the way we treat others, the way we respond to what happens.
The way we live, the way we treat others is really who we say Jesus is.
We are saying this is how Jesus is, this is what Jesus does.

When we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison.

And Jesus answered him,
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church
We can pray for a time when there will be no need for anyone to ask who Jesus is,
because everyone will know.
Everyone will know who he is through the actions of his body, the church.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

'Woman, great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish.'

The two events we have heard today seem to be unrelated.

Firstly, Jesus puts it straight to the Pharisees that they have got it wrong.
He says all their rules about how to go about things are upside down.
What you eat, washing of hands, these are not the things that defile.
Rather it is what happens in here, the heart that will.
It is our intentions that will either defile us, or make us pure.
Jesus will say,
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
In the second story, we hear about the Canaanite woman.
She is desperate to save her possessed daughter.
She hassles Jesus and the disciples.
Jesus tells her he is not interested.
She challenges him, and he recognises her faith, and heals her daughter.

But look at the disciples in these two events:
Hear what they says when Jesus attacks the Pharisees:
Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?
Hear what they say about the Canaanite woman:
Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.
In these two events we see how the church reacts to power and weakness.
In these two events, we see how the church reacts to those who are in and those who are out.
In these two events, we also see how we are supposed to be, in the actions of Jesus.

Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?

Watch out Jesus. Keep your voice down. You are saying things that are really going to put us offside.
Be careful what you say.
Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.
Jesus, can you get rid of this foreigner. She is causing a scene. This is not helpful.
Stand up for the chosen…

The disciples are interested in keeping on good terms with power and authority.
They are not interested in a foreign woman who seems to be barking mad.

Their words of concern are about upsetting the powers that be.
Their words of anger are about keeping an outsider out.

To me this is how the church still works.
We are afraid of upsetting the wrong people.
We are afraid of speaking about something that may get us offside with the powers.
There are subjects we avoid speaking about because we don’t want to offend.
We suck up to the council, the government, prominent business owners, wealthy neighbours.
We don’t want to rock the boat.

When we side with the authorities on issues that go against the teachings of Jesus,
we are being like the disciples here.
We are not living or speaking the gospel,
we are living and speaking out of a different place.
A place that keeps our position of privilege.

And when we wish to shun the outsider,
when we wish that person would not cause trouble,
when we wish that person would just leave us alone and shut up,
we become like disiciples with the Canaanite woman.

When someone asks for our help, even if they cause a scene,
we don’t need to tell them to go away,
but rather, ask them to come in.

Instead of looking at the disciples reactions,
we can look at those of the Pharisees and the Canaanite woman, how they react to Jesus.

The Pharisees are upset with what he is saying.
He is threatening to them.
He challenges all they are, he challenges their position, power, and authority.
Their reaction is one of fear, fear that will eventually crucify him.

But the Canaanite woman’s reaction is one of faith:
‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David”
She recognises Jesus as Lord, even as an outsider.
She responds to the presence of Christ with overwhelming hope and faith.
Her situation is desperate, and she believes that Jesus is the one who can fix it.

We as disciples have to look where we stand.
We can’t stand by those in authority who would shun those who don’t fit in,
who make people lives more difficult.
We can’t be scared to stand up to them.
WE need to be careful that we don’t stand up for them against those who are abused by them.

Our place is to be with the Canaanite woman.
To respond to the first steps of faith.
She comes with faith, and her faith pays off. Her daughter is healed.

When someone makes those first steps, we can’t be like the disciples.
People come with all volumes, ideas, attitudes.
What they wear, what they say, the way they say it is of no difference to us.
The fact that they make those first steps toward Christ does make a difference.

We can’t be saying Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.
But rather “great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish’

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’

The story of Jesus walking on the water is even more well known than the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.
Many theories have been put up about how he did this: sandbanks, lowtide, stepping stones.
And like when we discussed the loaves and fishes, the how doesn’t matter. It really is of no interest.

Even the fact that Jesus is walking on water isn’t the main point of this story.
It is the central figure, the cause of the story, but it is what happens around it that is the story.

After feeding the multitudes, Jesus sends the disciples off in their boat to the other side of the lake.
He goes up to the mountain to pray, if you remember , this was his original intention before the crowds came to him, and he felt compassion for them and fed them.

Jesus stays up the mountain all night, praying.

But while he is up there, the disciples in the boat are in trouble.
The wind has turned against them, they are far from land.
The boat is being battered by waves.

The word that we have, battered, in the original Greek is a bit stronger.
It is closer to 'tortured.'

IT may help us to remember that when Matthew was writing his gospel, the church was suffering severe persecution. This word would have wrung very true for those earliest Christians.

They would have seen the boat as the church, themselves as the disciples.
The waves torturing them as the persecutions they faced.

Our brothers and sisters in Iraq are facing persecution, torture and death today.
Churches that are over 1500 years old have been bombed.
In the past week there have been reports of mass crucifixions for those who will not denounce the faith. There are reports from priests of children they have baptised being cut in half.

It is a horrific situation. And the world sits by and watches.

We can feel helpless and hopeless. Unable to do anything.
We can do something.
We can pray.

We can be thankful that we live in a country where we are free to practice our religion freely.
Our boat isn’t tortured by waves of persecution.

We face different issues.
Indifference.  Apathy.  Complacency.

Our boat sits lonely on the water, with hardly anyone noticing it,
and those who do notice it only bother when it suits them.

Meanwhile, our brothers and sisters in Iraq are being beheaded for daring to profess the name Jesus Christ.

Indifference and apathy have a different effect.
One day there will simply be no one here who cares and there will be no church.

For those in Iraq, they face the prospect of the church being wiped out where they live.
We face the idea of our church slowly sliding into irrelevance.
It is up to us to stand up for our brothers and sisters in Iraq.
It is up to us to stand up for our own church.

In the boat it can feel like we are alone, that what we think, feel, believe means nothing to anyone else.

The winds that batter our lives can make what we believe disappear for a while.
It can all seem so futile and it feels like Jesus is miles away.

When I read this story, I put myself in the place of Peter.
So while it is useful to think of the boat as the church, it is Peter’s actions that express our actions.

Peter sees Jesus on the water. He has been in the boat, he is frightened.

Jesus spoke to them and said,
‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’
He said, ‘Come.’

In the midst of the storm, Peter sees Jesus.
In the midst of all the rubbish we face in our lives, when it feels Jesus is not around, something happens to remind us of Jesus presence.
He is there in front of us. Do not be afraid.

Peter steps out of the boat and begins to walk toward Jesus, doing the seemingly impossible.
But he notices the strong wind, and his fear returns.

The presence of Christ in our lives is not like an on off switch.
It is not like we turn it on, and we never have to worry about it again.
And it’s not like Christ ever goes away.
It is more like life gets in the way.
Bills, arguments, bureaucracy, families...
all these things can feel like the waves, we can feel like we are sinking in them.
In those times we can forget Jesus with us.

Peter sinks and cries out ‘Lord, save me!’
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him,
‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’

When things get so bad, we call out to Jesus.
He reaches out his hand.
‘Why did you doubt?’

Jesus reminds us of his presence in our lives.
His presence can’t be turned on and off, but our awareness can and often is.
Like Peter, we becomes fearful of what the world sometimes throws at us, and we start to sink.
But it is not as if Jesus is not there.
It’s not that he reaches out his hand to us, rather it is we notice his hand is reaching out toward us.

Why did you doubt?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

They need not go away; you give them something to eat.

The feeding of the 5000 is easily one of the most famous stories in the Gospels.

It is one that people who have very little knowledge of Jesus or church or the faith will know.
Like ‘walking on water.’

And like that, it is one of those stories that people have tried to explain.

How did he do it?
He must have had some bread and fish hidden away.
He must have broken them up into such small pieces and everyone said they were filled.

No explanation or rationalisation will actually help us.
No explanation can really get us to understand it.

Because the how is not the important part.
That is something we have to accept.

It is a miracle, it is something that goes beyond the normal understanding of reality, that goes beyond the material laws of time and space.

And furthermore, the how is no way near as important or helpful as
why did Jesus do this.

Or even more significant as what does it tell us about God?

Jesus has just heard that his cousin John the Baptist has been killed.
He goes away to a deserted place, but the crowds follow him.
and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 
He wants to be alone.
He must know things are going to be getting difficult.
The people need to be with him, and he recognises their need as more important than his own.

He has compassion. He heals those who are sick.
This is not a great moment of teaching like we have had with the parables.
This is a time of doing.
He heals those who are sick, and he will feed those who are hungry.
The disciples start to worry about the crowd. They are hungry.
send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves
Tell this lot to go away. They need to go and sort themselves out.
We only have a very small amount of food.

The mindset of the disciples is conditioned by the way food was understood at the time.
There were strict dietary laws.

These laws were sacred, and they were from God, so they were an understanding of how God was.
Some food was clean and other foods were unclean.
These sacred laws in some ways speak of scarcity.
You can eat this, but you can’t eat that.
Think of what the mindset would be of the people who were there.
For generations, they had learnt that God told them what they can and cannot eat.
Think about being hungry, but not being able to eat something because God has said you can’t.
Think about what your understanding of God would be then.
These laws placed more emphasis on the separation of clean and unclean, not the feeding of people.
Then think of this Jesus who multiplies such a small amount of food
And all ate and were filled
How would your understanding of God of God be then?

This is a God of abundance and generosity not scarcity and stringency.
Jesus is showing God’s generosity to all.

He doesn’t interview or question whether the people need or deserve the food, he just provides.

But it is not just food.
This is about the kingdom of God.
Imagine it as a parable:
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who has five loaves of bread and 2 fish and feeds over 5000 people with them.

Jesus shows us that this feeding is more than just food in his actions:
Taking the five loaves and the two fish,
he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves.
He will do this again at the last supper, and we will take part in this later this morning.
When we do, we are sharing the same divine generosity and hospitality that the crowd of 5000 did.

While we share in that same generosity we are to remember Jesus words:
They need not go away; you give them something to eat.
We are to show the same generosity that God shows us in the eucharist.
As the Letter of James tells us:
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 
As a church we are to be generous to those who are without.
By showing the same generosity of Jesus,
we can reveal God who wishes for all to be fed.

When those who are fed can see that God loves them for who they are,
they will see a time and a place where they can share in the eucharist with us.

They will see a time where there is a place set for them at the heavenly banquet.